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tv   Nightline  ABC  June 7, 2014 12:37am-1:08am PDT

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tonight a special edition of "nightline." burned. arson squad under fire. they call them the best arson squad in america. >> two tires today already. >> with a fearless new leader and a canine secret weapon. there seems to be no stopping them. >> we've done it time and time again. >> until the questions started coming. tonight we're going into the fire. investigating the investigators. >> it's what we call a draught. >> a report months in the making, examining both side. >> i was being framed for a crime that i didn't commit. >> did the arson squad accuse innocent people? >> it ruined my life. >> good morning, fire marshal. >> how will they respond when "nightline" turns up the heat? >> can we talk to you about this investigation? >> but first, the "nightline" 5.
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things on purpose? youe not a color found nature. there's nothing wrong with tha. i can hear your arteries clogging. ok. no. this is tap water. i can't let you buy this. oh. crystal geyser please. crystal geyser. bottled at the mountain source. most people don't know how to choose a new dentist. that's where we come in. we've helped over 8 million people find the right dentist, and we can do the same for you. call 1-800-dentist today. ♪ good evening. thank you for joining us. arson can be one of the toughest crimes to prove, but in phoenix one arson squad seemed to find answers few others could. arguably the best arson
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investigators in the nation with the numbers to back it up. but now they are under fire with some asking whether the investigators have been accusing the innocent. here is abc's byron pitts with burned, arson squad under fire. >> once the investigator gets there we take over. >> this is captain sam richardson. >> two fires today already. >> captain fred anders. they're investigators with the phoenix fire department elite arson squad taking on one of the deadliest crimes in america, and one of the hardest to prove. >> definitely not engine fire. >> we can go into a structure and be able to find exactly where it starts. to a lay person they're just looking at us how do you know that. >> reporter: they were the best of the best and had the numbers to prove it. they solved more cases than any arson unit in the country. >> this unit right here made ten arrests in the last two or three
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weeks. we have done it time and time again. >> did the success come at the expense of innocent victims. >> i was being framed for a crime i didn't commit. going to prison for the rest of my life. >> tonight, two people who say they were falsely accused of arson, alleging incompetence, misconduct and worse by a department they claim has run amok. >> you were in jail for 16 months. >> it ruined my life. i am still paying for it until this very day. >> and investigator who says there may be more. >> i think there is other cases, that there is other innocent victims out there. >> but our story begins in 2009. abc news was given extraordinary access to this elite unit. so we could see for ourselves, what made them the best in the nation. captain andies was proud to admit he had a secret weapon. sandy. >> sandy is an accelerant
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detection canine, a food reward dog, who only gets fed when she works. >> her highly trained nose can detect accelerants commonly used in arsons. but there was another force at work. the unit's controversial new director, jack balentine, a police detective but no prior background in fire investigations. >> i spent my whole career undercover. seemed like a great challenge. >> balentine was as comfortable posing as a hit man or drug dealer as he was in the media spotlight. his first move as director, launching an intensive training program to transform fire fight nears criminal investigators with the purr ower to arrest. and he admitted the learning curve was steep. >> we were pretty comfortable on a firetruck. pretty comfortable to fight a fire. then we are asked to investigate the fire.
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we really didn't have a clue. >> all they have got to do is just get probable cause. >> my job is to make sure that day can realize success on every one of the cases that they go on. >> between balentine's leadership, the clearance rate skyrocketed, solving just 22% of cases in 2007. 65% in 2010. the highest in the country. but the shining record was about to be called into question. >> 911, where is your emergency? >> there is a fire. >> hold on i will put you through to the fire department. >> may 13, 2009, the home of barbara sloan was ablaze. richardson, andies, and sadie were called to investigate. >> okay, this is a video of the back of the house you. can see we had a pretty good fire here. >> reporter: in this video filmed by richardson. telltale signs of arson all over the house.
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>> the gas was unscrewed from the dryer. the cabinets in every room are open, to allow the air to get into it. >> forensic accounting proved that sloan had $100,000 in credit card debt and had been trying to set house. >> this house has been on the market, approximatab market, approximately for four years for sale. >> in the corner, huh. >> reporter: but the crucial evidence came from sadie. detected accelerants at multiple locations around the house. making the case a slam dunk. >> barbara sloan says she didn't diet. >> are you an arsonist? >> no, i was being framed. >> sloan was charged with arson and faced 29 years in prison. >> i sat down with my family before the criminal trial was to begin, and prepared my son and daughter that their mom was going to jail for the rest of their life. >> for her defense, sloan
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enlisted pat andler, a fire investigator with more than 30 years of experience whchlt in y --. when you looked at the evidence what was your thought? >> in the garage. >> in the garage. >> the garage is completely engulfed. >> the first witness says they don't see fire anywhere else in the house but in the garage. >> reporter: not the laundry room with unplugged gas line. not the kitchen where the iron was face down. a point richardson would later concede in a deposition with sloan's lawyers. >> there was not even an ioata of evidence of a gas explosion anywhere in that home, right? >> no. off awe in fact there was no fire damage in the laundry room, isn't that right? >> no. >> reporter: all of the physical evidence pointed to one of sloan's cars, a toyota corolla model that had been recalled for defects including cracks he believes sparked an electrical
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fire that spread throughout the house. >> did you ever open the hood of either car to examine the engine compartment of either car? >> no. sam richardson never even entered the garage. >> so you think this was fire investigation 101? >> this is below fire investigation 101. this is -- >> reporter: but the sloan case isn't the only one? just six days prior, richardson and andies had been called to another house fire across town. >> there is three separate points of origin here on the back patio. >> richardson made up his mind on the scene. >> so this will be an arson fire with a possible suspect. >> reporter: the suspect was a former sheriff's deputy and renter of the house. he was behind on his rent and had been fighting with his roommate. >> he wasn't paying rent. he came back. they wouldn't let him in. he got mad. and saw him just prior to the
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fire. >> part of the suspicion was that you were freeing to kill your roommate? >> correct. >> reporter: any truth at all to that? >> none at all. >> reporter: richardson using his new training took on the role of interrogator. >> i know you lit the fire. let me tell you why. okay. i got a good video of you coming back. a good eyewitness that saw you back there just prior to the fire. >> reporter: telling you evidence that he did it. >> he didn't. >> it was a scare tactic to see if i would admit to some form of guilt. >> reporter: did you? >> no. off awe come on, you are a man. >> reporter: there was no videotape. though lying is a time honored police detective tactic to illicit confessions. >> some one poured gasoline all over the stuff. the dog is hitting everywhere. >> reporter: that much was true. sadie did alert to accelerants at the scene enough to arrest him and keep him in phoenix lockup for 16 months. but the case began to unravel.
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pat andler who worked on the defense said the fire started because of an electrical short in the attic. >> sam richardson got it wrong. it is embarrassing to not that he is a fellow fire fighter like myself. >> reporter: before the trial, he was offered a plea for one year probation. he refused. >> were you not tempted. probation sound better than 20 years in prison. >> i don't care if they gave me one second of probation. i would not sign no paperwork to admit guilt to a charge. >> reporter: then the case against capels fell apart. traces of accelerant that sadie alerted to, the results came back from the lab negative. no traces of accelerants, prosecutors dropped the charges. back on the sloan case turns out the same thing happened. sadie found accelerants that the lab did not. why didn't sadie get it wrong both times? could this be why?
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>> fake it for me, okay. >> fake it. i could not believe what i was hearing. >> reporter: coming up, more word you might find surprising coming from captain andies. >> we used to think we had to have concrete evidence. >> hey, captain andies. >> we try to get our own answers. >> can we talk to you about the sloan investigation. moke. it actually caught me by surprise. some people had changes in behavior, thinking or mood, hostility, agitation, depressed mood and suicidal thoughts or actions while taking or after stopping chantix. if you notice any of these, stop chantix and call your doctor right away. tell your doctor about any history of mental health problems, which could get worse while taking chantix. don't take chantix if you've had a serious allergic or skin reaction to it. if you develop these, stop chantix and see your doctor right away as some could be life threatening. tell your doctor if you have a history of heart or blood vessel problems, or if you develop new or worse symptoms. get medical help right away if you have symptoms of a heart attack or stroke. use caution when driving or operating machinery.
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we are back with our investigation of one of the nation's premiere arson squads. were they too good to be true? here again is abc's byron pitts.
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>> this is the damage done to the front living room. >> reporter: looking at video taken by phoenix fire investigators at barbara sloan's home which they believe she set on fire. leading the investigation are captain sam richardson and fred andies, they don't know it yet but they will soon find themselves under a cloud of suspicion and this is why. they brought in sadie, the unit's arson going to find traces of accelerant. she does. but andies seems to expect more. moments later, andies makes this stunning comment. >> please fake it for me, okay. >> fake it. those word were unbelievable. i could not believe what i was hearing in his tone of voice, it was not just a joke. >> show me. >> i was shocked. i don't understand why fred andies did that.
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>> sadie hit on the dining room. and hit in the kitchen area by the stove. like the presence of ignitable liquid. >> prosecutors dropped the case against sloan saying richardson was inexperienced that he had no evidence tying her to the fire. and all of his conclusions were speculative. sloan filed a civil suit against the company. deposition with the lawyers, captain richardson admits he made up his mind before he had all of the fact. >> i knew when i left that day, that this was an arson fire. >> you want through this entire scientific method and concluded that ms. sloan's fire was arson that afternoon. >> yes. >> you did it before you got any lab support back, right? >> yes. >> then there was captain andies turn. he was grilled about how often sadie's results are confirmed by the lab. >> i don't know. >> do you keep those statistics?
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>> no. >> why not? >> i don't feel the need to. >> didn't you think that is rel van vant -- relevant to her reliability? >> no. >> why not? >> i believe she is far superior to what the labs can do. >> you have no idea how right she is? >> she is right 100% of the time. >> they insist we follow the dog not what the test results found? how does that strike you? >> it is absurd to think that a 6-year-old lab retriever is smarter than than individual that has a college degree in chemistry. >> reporter: it is true arson dogs often find trace amounts of accelerants that can't be confirmed by labs. that's because they're detecting trace elements too small to be meaningful, too small to help start a fire. so according to the national fire protection association, sadie's alerts should never have ben u been used. we wanted to hear more from andies but he decleanined our request for an interview citing
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a request. we showed up at his house. he didn't have much to say. >> i can't talk about it until they finish the investigation. >> we talked to the investigators. they say it won't be a conflict. sir why is that you think? but andies did tell us something back in 2010. >> we used to think that we had to have concrete evidence. >> reporter: something in hindsight might explain a lot. let's hear that again. >> we used to think that we had to have concrete evidence. and often we do. but now we have gotten smart enough now we can put a case together with circumstantial evidence and make it stick. we have done it time and time again. >> where did andies pick up the attitude? barbara sloan says it all lead back to one man, jack balentine, the maverick cop whose leadership led to the astonishing arrest rate. >> i believe he was pushing for the arson clearance rates to be
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the best in the nation. >> but it is okay, right, for bosses to be demanding and push their people to be the best, right? >> but it is not okay to enk encourage or push your people to be dishonest and not clearly investigate the facts. >> reporter: balentine decleain a request for an interview. we tried to visit him at the station. >> not expecting any one from the media. if you wait outside. >> reporter: that we can do, yes, ma'am. i guess fire marshal balentine does not want to see us, a man historically media friendly not so much today. whennen we ewe caught up with h following day. >> good morning. byron pitt, abc new, can we talk to you about the sloan investigation?
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>> i take it the answer is no. >> there was one ray of sunshine for the phoenix fire department. barbara sloan lost her civil suit. though she is appealing the verdict. >> their life goes on as though nothing happened. nothing changed. and they have to know they did something wrong. they have to know. >> so today we stand at an impasse. the phoenix arson squad stand by its accusation. but it is clear that mistakes made by investigators cripple the cases against sloan and capels, leaving both side with a sense of justice unserved. for more answers, we'll have to wait for the findings of that public safety investigation, expected out in the coming weeks. for "nightline," i'm byron pitts, in phoenix, arizona. >> our thanks to byron pitts for that report. we'll be right back. we let you tell us what you want to pay, and we help you find options to fit your budget. where are they taking him? i don't know. this seems excessive! decontamination's in progress.
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tonight a big in the view making news. hillary clinton and diane sawyer. the exclusive one-on-one
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conversation about the former first lady's health, her presidential plans, and what she thinks of president obama's controversial decision to trade high-level taliban detainees for sergeant bowe bergdahl. >> did he make a deal with the devil on releasing the five taliban? >> i think this was a very hard choice which is why i think my book is so aptly named, if you look at -- what the factors were going into the decision, of course there are competing interests, and values and one of our values is, we bring everybody home off the battlefield, the best we can. it doesn't matter how they ended up in a prisoner of war situation. >> of it doesn't matter? >> it does not matter. we bring our people home. >> hillary clinton, public and private, one-on-one with diane sawyer airs monday at 9:00 p.m. eastern on the eve of hillary clinton's new book "hard choices." >> thank you for watching abc
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